Pacifica name outlasts original vehicle

John Gilbert

It’s somehow reassuring to know that no matter how closely you follow the automobile business, you are still vulnerable to surprises. My most recent surprise, for example, was when a Chrysler Pacifica was delivered to my Duluth home from a Chicago auto delivery service. It was a two-part surprise, the first being that I hadn’t realized that with all the cutbacks eliminating different models, the Pacifica was still being produced!

When it first came out, the Pacifica was an odd but interesting vehicle, tall and blunt, with a lot of room for occupants and families inside and with the SUV-like utility of all-wheel-drive. The only person I knew who every bought one of those original Pacificas was a fellow named Brad Shelstad, a former star goaltender who won a state title with a 1-0 shutout of heavily favored Edina, before going on to the University of Minnesota where he anchored the first Herb Brooks NCAA championship team back in 1974. Brad went on to an impressive high school coaching career at Wadena-Deer Creek.

When he retired, he and his wife moved to Duluth, just because he liked the views of Lake Superior almost as much as I have for my lifetime. They bought a house on the east hillside with a great view. The reason Brad is timely right now is that this is state hockey tournament time, for one, and it also is the 50th anniversary of the year when Shelstad and the unsung Gophers won the state’s first-ever NCAA hockey championship.

On top of that timeliness, Brad loved his Pacifica those many years ago, and he was wise enough to ignore the advice I gave him way back when. I said based on Chrysler’s success with minivans, sedans, and pickup trucks, I didn’t think the Pacifica would endure the market warfare much longer, and he might be wise to trade it in before it became extinct. He didn’t trade it until about five years ago, and that contributed to my misguided hunch that the Pacifica wasn’t long for our marketplace.

Chrysler surprised me by deciding to abandon the popular names Caravan, Voyager and Town & Country — its hat trick of popular minivans — when our society deemed minivans should be avoided and replaced by SUVs, but it didn’t abandon the name Pacifica.

When the new Pacifica, in a “Ceramic Gray” clearcoat paint job showed up, surprising me to begin with its stylishly remodeled exterior and adopted minivan-like stature, my first thought was to drive over and take Brad for a ride. Turned out to be too busy a week for such socializing, and we missed connecting. Then the Pacifica was gone.

It may be that such competitors as the Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna and Kia Carnival have all risen to the top of the minivan segment, and all of them are loaded with style and impressive features, but the new Pacifica still has a lot to offer.

The test vehicle was officially a Pacifica L, AWD, Road-Trioper, And it is built as the ultimate people-mover. Inside the front, two richly upholstered “leatherette” bucket seats offer adjustable support and comfort, and as a driver you are greeted by a large instrument pod with gauges that can be adjusted and with a neat ambient color strip that follows, for example, the speedometer needle as it makes its way around the circular track. You also are attracted to the rest of the dashboard, which features a huge center navigation and information screen, with easily managed controls underneath.

It would be nice if the tiny printed identification of the various buttons and switches were readable at a glance, but alas, they are too tiny for that.

The Pacifica test vehicle was powered by Chrysler’s tried and true 3.6-liter V6 engine, ungraded through the years to now have variable valve-timing on its four-valve per cylinder layout, and it pushes the Pacifica around turns and through traffic with ease, regulated by a 9-speed automatic transmission, with stop-start technology. That means it takes a pause whenever you stop at a red light and helps your fuel economy approach the estimated 25 miles per gallon in highway cruising. We got 15-16 mpg in combined, but mostly city driving.

Virtually every contemporary feature was included on the test Pacifica, including standard adaptive cruise, blind spot and rear camera alerts, lane departure warning, pedestrian warning, plus advanced brake assist with full-speed collision warning forward and ParkView with rear camera alert.

That’s quite an array for the base price of $43,925, but there’s much more from the option package bin, to justify the price rising to $54,895. The Ceramic paint, for example, is a $495 option. The Road-Tripper package fills the interior with features, such as the 360-degree camera views for parking, 20-inch grey alloy wheels, and a trailer towing and sway-damping feature.

On the inside, one of Chrysler’s long-standing features is still there — the stow and go third-row seat, which can be folded down into a cubicle under the rear floor. The 13-speadker audio system has a 506-watt amplifier, and occupants in the second and third-row seats are treated to built-in Amazon Fire television and a Blu-Ray DVD player. The Pacifica also has a built-in 4G WiFi hot spot, and a 220-amp alternator keeps everything working.

My wife and I love sunroofs, and the Pacifica has a huge, dual-pane sunroof, as well as pulldown shades for the side windows on the second and third rows.

One of the best attributes of being transformed to a minivan is the sliding rear doors right and left, which operate hands free. You merely touch the handle and the door slides open or shut.

The two second-row bucket seats have all the adjustments, and gertrting into the third row seat is easy with the sliding side door, and the easily-flipped seatbacks on that second row.

Chances are, when the six or seven family members are on a trip somewhere, all those entertainment features might eliminate, once and for all, the kids whining “Aren’t we there yet?”